Mental health benefits are emerging as a must-have in the workplace. Candidates and employees are making the demand — and employers are responding.

The Need For Mental Health Benefits

Mental health is an age-old topic, brought to the fore by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Research indicates that 46% of workers have experienced mental health problems during the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to 39% before the crisis began. Many workers suffering from mental illness or substance abuse say that the pandemic has exacerbated their disorder.
As stated in a 2020 report by McKinsey & Company, “Employees need, and increasingly demand, resources to help them cope with mental health problems.”

By making mental health benefits more accessible, and by implementing such programs appropriately, you can improve both employee and organizational performance. You can also strengthen your competitive position in the recruitment marketplace. This is important because candidates are asking recruiters about mental health benefits more frequently since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

According to a 2020 survey by Monster, “Employees want to work for companies that support them financially, professionally, and emotionally.” However, 1 in 3 candidates say that their jobs negatively impact their mental health.

The top stressors are:
1. Heavy workload (32%)
2. Not earning enough to pay bills and debts (28%)
3. Toxic boss or coworkers (24%)
Per the Monster survey, employers can stand out by supplying financial, professional, and emotional support. And by helping to relieve financial stress, employee turnover can be reduced.

The bottom line is that employee stress, anxiety, and depression are prevalent. The impact, as well, is widespread — often leading to poor employee health, decreased productivity, absenteeism, higher healthcare costs, and lower profit margins for employers, often due to theft.

Employers are Heeding the Call

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, employers are increasingly offering mental health benefits. Larger organizations, especially, are expanding their existing programs to include more extensive mental health options.

Another consideration is the Affordable Care Act, which requires employers with 50 or more full-time employees to provide health insurance (including mental health benefits), or pay a penalty.

Commonly, mental health benefits for employees include:
  • Employee assistance programs (EAPs)
  • Mental health services covered by medical plans
  • Counseling referrals
  • Mental health assessments
  • Substance abuse treatment
  • Financial counseling
  • Mental health education
  • Stress management programs
Additional offerings may include:
  • Onsite mindfulness classes
  • Extended counseling sessions
  • Mindfulness and wellness apps
  • Employee Newsletters
  • Access to well-being coaches
  • Reduced copays for therapy visits
  • Unlimited paid time off

A Closer Look at Employee Assistance Programs

At the very least, most employers offer an EAP, as a mental health benefit.

EAPs help employees (and often their immediate family members) deal with mental health problems, workplace conflict, substance abuse, financial stress, legal matters, and other work and personal issues. The services are free and confidential for employees and eligible family members.

Besides serving as potent retention tool, an EAP can help you attract qualified candidates — including those re-entering the workplace after losing their jobs because of the COVID-19 outbreak. These candidates can take advantage of EAP services once they are hired and eligibility kicks in.

An EAP usually costs employers between $12 and $40 per employee annually and is “one of the smallest areas of all employee benefit costs,” according to a report by the Employee Assistance Society of North America. For every $1 an employer invests in an EAP, there’s typically a ROI of between $3 and $10.

Although most employers offer an EAP, many employees are unaware that the program exists. Therefore, it’s critical that you inform your employees about the EAP services available and remind them that all conversations are confidential.

Virtual Mental Health Solutions are On the Rise

A 2020 survey concludes that nearly all employers offer telehealth services, to help employees reduce their exposure to COVID-19 while receiving medical care. The survey also found that more employers are adding telepsychiatry to their benefit offerings, enabling employees to receive mental health services virtually.

Other studies show that a growing number of employers are rolling out tele-therapy programs, which deliver counseling sessions via phone, video chat, email, or text message.

Technological advancements have made it much easier for service providers to deliver prompt, convenient care. For example, the Let’s Talk Interactive platform connects mental health service providers with clients/individuals through HIPAA-secure video chat.

Note that most EAPs, as well, offer virtual mental health services, to make it simpler and safer for employees to receive mental health assistance.

When Cost Is a Barrier

As an employer, it’s imperative that you understand the stressors impacting employee mental health — such as excessive job demands, financial instability, job insecurity, inflexible work hours, harassment, substance abuse, and interpersonal conflict. Equally vital is implementing measures for countering these stressors.

Some small employers, however, choose not to offer mental health benefits, due to financial constraints. Many small businesses also struggle to secure affordable and competitive benefits on their own. “On average, small businesses paid about eight to 18 percent more than large firms for the same health insurance policy,” the National Conference of State Legislatures reported in 2018.

Keep in mind, though, that you do not need the deep pockets of a large business to provide mental health benefits. There are free and inexpensive alternatives that you can use to spread awareness and promote employee wellness — including resources from government agencies like SAMHSA and industry organizations like the Center for Workplace Mental Health.

Employees under financial strain will likely welcome a list of hotlines that they can call for help. Simply download our poster “Financial Assistance for Employees” for your break room wall, and upload the pdf onto any web pages and apps frequented by your employees.

Grace Ferguson Bio Pic

Grace Ferguson

Business Writer

Grace Ferguson is a business writer and blogger covering payroll, employee benefits, and human resources. She has vast experience serving as a payroll and benefits administrator for large and small businesses.